- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Some got word over the phone. Others heard it on the radio or television. A few found out from reporters seeking their reaction.

Regardless of the manner in which they learned of Steve Spurrier’s resignation yesterday, Washington Redskins players shared the same response: surprise.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” defensive tackle Martin Chase said, “but I don’t think any of the guys expected this.”

Rumors of Spurrier’s departure circulated around Redskin Park for weeks, but the manner in which the Ball Coach revealed his intentions — on a cell phone from a golf course in Florida — took most players aback.

Spurrier never once told players of his plans, instead wrapping up Sunday’s brief team meeting with talk about the Redskins’ numerous close losses this year and plans to start afresh with offseason workouts.

Spurrier didn’t give any indication of his future, but it wasn’t hard for some players to read between the lines.

“I think he was just as frustrated as we were,” safety Matt Bowen said. “You could see the frustration that he was having. But no, he didn’t give us reason to believe he wouldn’t be back.”

Players’ relationships with Spurrier varied, particularly between members of the offense and defense. The ex-quarterback and architect of the Fun ‘n’ Gun clearly devoted most of his time to offense, even if he wasn’t always sure who he was talking to.

“He tried to associate and talk with everybody. He wasn’t too good on the names, but you can’t fault the man for that, he’s not perfect,” said wide receiver Darnerien McCants, whose name was butchered by Spurrier on more than one occasion.

“I liked Coach Spurrier. I liked how he coached,” safety Todd Franz said. “Obviously there were some things that people liked about him and some things that people didn’t like about him.”

For most skill position players, Spurrier was a dream coach, one who would try anything to create offense. Chad Morton, who was almost exclusively a kick returner with the New York Jets, signed with the Redskins last winter knowing he’d have a chance to touch the ball on offense under Spurrier’s scheme.

“I really liked him a lot, so I don’t want to see him go,” Morton said. “I also came here to want to play under him. So it’s even more disappointing.”

Spurrier’s laid-back approach made him an appealing coach to play for, but it also had its drawbacks. With no reason to fear significant discipline from their coach, some players became careless.

Several spoke Sunday of the overwhelming lack of discipline on the team, from players showing up late to practices to cell phones ringing during meetings. Spurrier finally put his foot down last week, deactivating tight end Zeron Flemister, defensive tackle Darrell Russell and linebacker Antonio Pierce for violating team rules, but it was too late for him to regain control.

“I think as a team, we might have taken advantage of him in certain parts,” McCants said. “But that’s part of the NFL. You have to live and learn.”

Not everyone was in the mood to talk about Spurrier yesterday. Reached by phone, both tackle Chris Samuels and receiver Rod Gardner declined to comment on their now ex-coach.

Perhaps they were too dejected over the prospect of playing for yet another new coach. Gardner, who was drafted in 2001, will be playing for his third different head coach next year, having already seen Spurrier and Marty Schottenheimer walk through the door. Samuels, drafted in 2000 when Norv Turner was fired and briefly replaced by Terry Robiskie, will be playing for his fifth.

“Ever since I started playing this thing called football, I’ve had at least a new coach or a new system every other year just about,” McCants said. “I think the longest I’ve had a coach was for three years in college. … You kind of get used to it and make sure you take care of yourself in the meanwhile.”

Like or dislike Spurrier, Redskins players ultimately realize they have no choice but to accept the change and rally behind the new coach.

“Everyone knows in this league if you don’t win there’s repercussions,” Bowen said. “I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed to see him go, but that’s the decision Coach made. Whoever the new coach is, I’m sure he’ll bring in an attitude of trying to win ballgames, and we’re going to follow his lead.”

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